Research is continually showing that a balanced, rich, and robust microbiome is one of the major drivers of short term and long term health.
If I could only recommend one area for people to focus to ensure better overall health it would be on protecting and enhancing their microbiome. This is a core Foundation of Health.
Sometimes it feels overwhelming to me to even discuss the microbiome due to the fact that your microbiome is connected to every body system and cell in your body.
Your acute problem might be hormone imbalance, headaches, stubborn weight gain, chronic pain, insomnia, depression, fatigue, immune issues, skin rashes, boating, etc……………but the root cause could be in your gut and specifically, your microbiome.
I have found that no matter what you are trying to heal or repair or rebalance, addressing the microbiome will help everything function better. But this is no magic bullet because it actually takes time and sustainable small efforts, but the payoff is big.
To simplify things, we are going to take a ‘bite sized’ approach over time to look at the important roles of the microbiome and what you can do to protect your microbiome.
I will share 1 important function of the microbiome with 1 step you can take to optimize it at a time.
But before we go there……… The basics. Your microbiome is a unique ecosystem made of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes. We have far more microbes than we have human cells and they cover all the various parts of our body including our gut, skin, mouth, and lungs. These microbes dictate how we feel and how we function and how we age. The science around this is exploding right now as we learn about their important role in aging, energy, disease, autoimmunity, chronic symptoms, weight gain, hormone health, immune health, chronic inflammation and more.
NOTE- If one of these tips does not feel right, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. It is usually NOT the new habit but instead the state of your gut. You may need to restore a microbial imbalance before you can use ideal tips. Moving slowly is always best.
Let’s dig in! 1 bite at a time.
#1- A Boundary
Bite Size #1- Your microbiome is a major guardian, protecting you from what enters your body.
According to Dr. Kiran Krishnan- Microbiologist at Microbiome Labs, Our gut is where we are most exposed to the outside world. This is why most of our immune system resides here.
Our digestive tract is actually considered OUTSIDE THE BODY.
The guards that protect what is allowed to come into the body are the MICROBES in our MICROBIOME (and the mucus layer they directly impact). If there is an imbalance in your microbiome, there is not proper protection. (1)
“If your microbiome is robust and diverse there is amazing protection and improvement in our health and wellness in the short term and long term” says Dr. Krishnan. (2)
We want to absorb nutrients from our food but keep out harmful substances such as mold, viral toxins, bacterial toxins, environmental toxins, undigested foods, etc.
When this barrier function is not working (aka leaky gut), we can absorb these substances and the result is chronic inflammation. And the thing is, this chronic inflammation goes above and beyond digestive issues. In this case we might see symptoms like- brain fog, achy joints, headaches, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and more inflammatory symptoms and disease progression associated with again.
A leaky gut, which is the root of so many chronic issues, starts with an imbalance in the microbiome, the guards are down and the mucosal barrier is disrupted. And again, digestive issues are not even present in these situations yet, the gut is the root of the problem but the symptoms are elsewhere.
I have heard this roughly likened to a castle wall (the thin layer of the gut wall) being guarded from invaders by soldiers standing guard (the microbes in your gut). When the guards are few in number, or are made of disruptive characters, invaders can easily get in and the wall is destroyed. The guards are VITAL.
One of the most harmful things that can move across the boundary from the gut into the body and cause problems in this situation are Endotoxins, or toxins made in the body. These include LPS or lipopolysaccharides that are made from gram negative bacteria. They belong in the gut but NOT in the bloodstream. When they enter the body through a leaky gut from an imbalanced microbiome it becomes a highly toxic compound that acts as a root cause for hundreds of chronic illnesses says Dr. Krishnan. And again, these are NOT digestive issues. (2)
Tip #1- One way you can protect the health of your microbiome is to EAT A WIDE VARIETY OF FOODS, including all of the colors at every meal. Diversity is KEY as the different microbes eat different foods (think a variety of veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans). Try new foods each week and enhance your microbiome.
Each of the different microbes in our gut feed off different foods. This is why a diverse diet is key to long term health above and beyond nutrient wise. Even if you eat a salad every day, change it up, get new veggies, add different nuts, seeds, fruits, fresh herbs, spices, healthy oils, clean proteins, etc. Download my rainbow food tool here to help.
REMEMBER- if eating a diverse diet does NOT feel right, get CURIOUS around what might be going on in your gut and your microbiome. You may need to rebalance your microbes first. (See my video here on HEAL vs IDEAL)
#2- Microbes make POSTBIOTICS that communicate with other parts of your body
Bitesize #2- POSTBIOTICS ARE FUNDAMENTAL FOR OVERALL HEALTH in all parts of the body, not just in the gut.
The friendly microbes in your gut feed off prebiotics and the result of this process are compounds called postbiotics. These postbiotics, or compounds made by the microbes in your gut, are one important way the microbiome communicates directly with the immune system, the brain, the skin, our hormonal system, and every other cell in the body. This is huge and we are learning more about this everyday as research in this area is growing fast.
Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are a type of postbiotic. The one SCFA we hear a lot about is Butyrate. Butyrate is a POSTBIOTIC that is made when certain bacteria in the gut feed off certain fibers. You have to have the good bacteria and you have to feed them the right foods to get these postbiotics that we need for optimal health.
Butyrate makes us more sensitive to insulin, it helps us to use fat for fuel, it feeds helpful microbes so they can grow, it talks directly to the immune system, and it is the main fuel for the gut wall so the gut can repair itself and provide a healthy boundary (7).
Other postbiotics impact our neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, tryptophan and influences our mood in this way. Others impact the brain through the vagus nerve and there is a lot of research happening in that area now. Other postbiotics include B vitamins, vitamin K, amino acids, and antimicrobials that keep harmful microbes from growing. Yes, the microbes in your gut make those!!(4).
There is growing evidence that certain postbiotics positively impact allergies, eczema, colic, defense against viruses, weight loss, joint pain, eye issues, heart disease, constipation, diarrhea and other IBS and IBD symptoms and may even have anti tumor properties (5,6).
We are continuing to learn a ton about postbiotics and how they important they are for our health and homeostasis. Make sure you have a healthy and diverse microbiome, that you are feeding those microbes well, and that you have the right environment for healthy microbes to grow- and boom, your body will make these essential postbiotics for you.
Tip #2- Tending to your microbiome is a bit like farming, you need to seed it, feed it, and provide the right environment for the good microbes to grow. When it comes to seeding the right microbes it is important to either eat fermented foods daily, such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso, yogurt, or fermented veggies or take a researched and proven effective probiotic regularly (don’t waste your money with ones that do not have research behind them). I recommend people take specific probiotics a few months each year. Click here to see my favorites and 3 month microbiome protocol.
#3- Female Hormonal Balance, Estrogen and The ESTROBOLOME
Bitesize #2 Your ESTROBOLOME impacts how much estrogen is in circulation in your body and in result influences how you feel month to month and during PUBERTY, POSTPARTUM, and PERIMENOPAUSE
Your gut is directly connected to your female hormones in several ways but one major way is through your ESTROBOLOME, which is part of your gut microbiome (7).
This is some cool and simple science that relates to how you feel during your menstrual cycle each month AND how smoothly you transition from one hormonal phase into another (aka puberty, after having babies, perimenopause and menopause).
In order to feel our best as women we want estrogen in just the right amount at the right time. Estrogen is made in many different areas of the body including in the ovaries. It is received all over the body (which is why we feely symptoms of estrogen imbalance all over our body) to do its many jobs. After, estrogen is detoxed in the liver and sent out with the bile to the gut to leave the system with our feces. The microbes that make up your estrobolome in your gut impact how much estrogen moves out of your body and how much is reabsorbed back into the system, so how much estrogen you have at any given time. It does this through making an enzyme (a postbiotic, see above) called betaglucaronidase that regulates how much estrogen is absorbed back into the bloodstream. These microbes in your estrobolome also turn certain plant foods into phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that help if there is too much estrogen or if there is too little estrogen (7).
So the estrobolome influences both if you are estrogen dominant or if you are low in estrogen, and in result influence all the symptoms that go along with those major imbalances (bloating, cramps, hot flashes, anxiety, sleep problems, tender breasts, etc).
These microbes are incredible. The Estrobolome is one thing we dig into and work on during the women’s hormone club every winter.
You can actually test and see how robust and diverse your microbiome is, including seeing how your estrobolome is functioning. This is part of the Gut Zoomer at Vibrant Labs or the BiomeFx from Microbiome Labs, two labs that are doing incredible research into the gut microbiome.
Tip #3- One way to protect your microbiome is to set aside time every single to mindfully relax and reduce the stress coming in. Certain harmful bacteria only grow in a stressful environments and can cause a imbalance in your gut microbiome (growth of harmful microbes and inactivation of helpful microbes causing all sorts of downstream problems). So, start today, set aside at least 5 minutes every day for mindful relaxation- breathwork, guided imagery, walk quietly in nature, listen to a favorite calming song, take a bath, or………… Your Microbiome Will Thank You.
BITE SIZE #4 – The Microbiome and MOOD
“You simply cannot improve mood disorders without improving the gut. Your gut has at least 50% control over your mood” -Microbiologist and Microbiome expert Kiran Krishnan.
The new research around the microbiome and mood is the most exciting area of research to me right now. It’s a tough call between microbiome and immune health, hormones, endurance, and pain but I think mood is at the forefront of exciting new research. But the changes the people I work with feel in their mood as we optimize their gut is incredible and reflects the research.
The microbiome directly impacts your brain and mood, including anxiety, depression, stress response, brain inflammation, degenerative disease susceptibility, and day to day focus (9).
The gut talks directly to the brain and the brain also talks directly to the gut. We call that bi-directional communication. They impact each other. It goes both ways. This happens from the start of life all the way to the end of life. The more diverse your gut microbiome, especially with certain species, the better your mood and brain function. Did you know your gut is called your second brain?!
There are a lot of different ways that the microbiome specifically impacts mood but I am going to highlight just a few here.
- Your gut microbes impact your neurotrasmitters a few different ways. Serotonin is your happy neurotransmitter, dopamine is all about feeling good and Gaba helps you to feel calm (10). Many of your neurotransmitters are made by microbes in your gut or influenced by them. These are transferred from the gut to the brain through the vagus nerve. Your gut microbes also impact how precursors such as tryptophan convert to melatonin and serotonin. Furthermore on the flip side, there are specific microbes like Campylobacter that make neurotransmitters that actually create anxiety in your brain (10). You need the right microbes to get these neurotransmitters right.
- Your stress response and HPA axis is directly influenced by your gut microbes in a few different ways. When you have a diverse and robust microbiome you are able to return to calm quicker after any stress response (in other words, your microbes dictate how well you return back to rest/digest or if you stay in fight/flight after stress). Specific microbes in your gut are linked to a better stress response and less anxiety and depression by way of specific peptidoglycans (a post biotic) that the microbes make in your gut (9). This postbiotic was key to helping develop the brain and central nervous system in utero (so moms gut makes a difference). After birth this postbiotic is still important as research shows it helps reduce perceived stress and it also is what helps puts the brain into theta waves or ‘flow state’ (enhanced focus, reduced mental fatigue). It improves sleep and decreases cortisol. Wow!! I told you postbiotics were important and yes, we know what strains are important.
- LPS- Lipopolysaccharides are made by certain bacteria in your gut and do not cause a big problem when they stay in your gut (another postbiotic but this time a pesky one). However, when they leak through a leaky gut into the blood they are able to cross the blood brain barrier and increase neurotoxicity and brain inflammation and is a huge driver of all mood disorders(9). LPS in the brain also impacts how neurotransmitters like dopamine in the brain are received, it can block the receptor and this is huge for addiction (10). New research shows that LPS are also connected to alzheimers and parkinsons.
So, again, if you want to improve mood and brain function, don’t forget about your microbiome. And the cool thing, there is so much you can do!!!
Tip #4- Did you know that dirt actually helps improve the diversity of your microbiome. There is research that shows playing in the dirt can and does improve the diversity of your microbiome in your gut! That might look like organic gardening in your backyard, playing in the mud on a river trip, having a picnic out on the trail, doing yard work, climbing around rocks, building a fort out back, raking the leaves, or any way you can mess about on the earth/dirt (8). Yay! Play on.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE!!!!
Find my 4 month Microbiome support protocol probiotics/prebiotics here. I think most people could us a set 3 months each year to work on seeding and feeding their microbiome if they want to function and age their best.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7677487/– Article on Mucus membrane as a barrier function and the importance of the microbiome
- https://healthmeans.com/talk/6406?currentTime=0 – Leaky Gut, Endotoxemia, Inflammation and Microbiome Reconditioning. Dr. Kiran Krishan
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28956703/ – Research on the microbiome and the immune system
- BiomeFx Lab Interpretation Guide. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e8cc993f9169c7045248796/t/61730a83e0a05800d54c9c47/1634929286312/BFx+-+Interpretation+Guide-Digital.pdf
- Does soil microbiome contribute to gut microbiome? Pubmed article. PMID: 31450753
- The Gut-Brain Axis & the Psychobiome https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BexCxqoe1cE
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec53P3M7ksQ– Mood disorders and your gut
Janel Ferrin Anderson FNLP, NC, DNM
Hello and welcome! I am Janel and I am obsessed with the science around how the human body functions and what impacts it. I help people use food and lifestyle to feel their best and to support short term and long term health. There is always a way to optimize how our unique body functions. Get curious with me. Learn more about me here and learn about working with me here
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